EA CEO Defends The Publisher's Recent Slate Of Games

From an outside perspective, the past half-decade has looked rocky for Electronic Arts. A string of flops and PR disasters such as Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Mass Effect: Andromeda, combined with moves such as the shutdown of Visceral Games, has led to a lot of outrage toward the mega-publisher. EA's perspective, however, is a little different.

Battlefront 2

Yesterday on EA's quarterly earnings call, CEO Andrew Wilson gave a passionate, fascinating defence of the company's portfolio that's worth reading, if only to get a better understanding of how EA's top executive thinks. This came just minutes after EA confirmed that Anthem is delayed (even though it's "not a delay"!) and acknowledged that it had sold one million fewer copies of Star Wars Battlefront 2 than anticipated.

Alongside a question about FIFA's success, an analyst asked the following:

"The last couple years you've talked a lot about diversifying away from non-sports titles, and unfortunately a lot of the non-sports titles have performed below expectations. As a postmortem, can you give us some examples of areas you see for opportunity to improve your ability to execute and consistently deliver the titles and really drive non-sports franchises through the company?"

In response, EA finance chief Blake Jorgensen made some comments about FIFA, and then Andrew Wilson chimed in with a speech that's worth reading:

"As I look back on the last few years and we think about The Sims which has continued to perform year after year; Battlefield 1 which I think was certainly the biggest Battlefield and maybe the biggest shooter of that year; Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare, which is a new IP that has done well across two iterations; Dragon Age Inquisition, which in that year [2014] was Game of the Year."

"Even, you look at Mass Effect and while there was some polarising sentiment in that franchise, it's actually performed really well, and player engagement is really strong. And then of course across mobile, SimCity BuildIt, The Sims Free Play and Star Wars Galaxy Heroes are all highly successful in their own markets.

"So as I take a 50,000-foot view and look at the breadth and depth of our portfolio across all of the games we make - and if you look at 2017 in aggregate we were the highest-reviewed publisher across our entire portfolio - so there's a lot of real goodness there.

"With all that said, that doesn't mean we are perfect, and there are always learning opportunities for us, and we are a learning company. And as you look through our history over the last three or four years, there have been times we didn't get it right. We have put our player-first commitment at the forefront of everything we do, and we have worked tirelessly to ensure that we are able to support and sustain them with the kind of experiences they expect from us.

"So that has meant we have changed some beta processes, we have changed some testing processes, we have changed some of the ways we've designed, we have changed some of the ways we go to market. And as a company we will always be learning, and always evolving, and always making the right changes in service of our players. But on balance, I think we've had a really, really strong run on sports and non-sports."

There is, of course, an image that supports Wilson's comments:

Via Google

Yet it's hard to find many enthusiast gamers who would count EA among the developers of their favourite games, and in fact, it's very easy to find people trashing the publisher for proliferating microtransactions, loot boxes, and other practices that often feel like crass methods to eke every last cent from players.

When it comes to public opinion, things haven't changed much since 2012 and 2013, when EA was twice declared "Worst Company In America" in a widespread poll following controversies involving Mass Effect 3, Dead Space and the online-only SimCity reboot.

So Wilson's comments are illustrative. EA might have stepped back from Battlefront 2's loot boxes, and (from what I hear) the publisher (and many of its contemporaries) are reviewing all of their microtransaction practices in the wake of last year's fury. But the company is happy with how things are going. For better or worse.


Comments

    So the loot boxes really do seem to be helping them in the right direction. Top effort EA.

    "We have put our player-first commitment at the forefront of everything we do"

    Like making sure they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment?

      "player-first" as in player first buys the game and then secondly spends a lot on micro transactions.

        With no chance of a refund unless it's within 7 days and you haven't launched the game. Which does not comply with the Consumer Law in Australia.

        Waiting for the ACCC to get on their case like they did with steam. Hmm, time to type an email me thinks.

          Which part of consumer law?
          Governments globally are trying to define what a loot box is, so how does it break a law if it hasn't got a definition in law?

            They aren't talking about loot boxes, they're talking about refunding the game.

          It's 15 days not 7, it's clear written in their TOS for Australia, and after being done by ACCC in 2011/12 They are compliant with consumer laws for digital media. So they already have gotten on to them... years ago.
          They even let you do a change of mind refund in the first 24hours if you don't like the game

          I don't know where you're getting your information from.

            Just took google's pop up for EN-AU link and didn't go much further lol. My bad.

            They do actually have a specific AU refund policy which looks compliant, no mention of 15 days though which is not compliant as they can't make any claims like this where there is a failure under the consumer guarantees? They have their great game guarantee, but this is separate to your statutory rights.

            https://help.ea.com/en-au/help/origin/origin/origin-au-returns-and-cancellations/

      Don't be mean.. They are clearly referring to the players who own stock in EA not gamers

    Hate EA all you want, but there is no denying Andrew Wilson is incredible at what he does.

    Whilst I wholly dislike what he has helped turn AAA gaming into, I have a lot of respect for him. His job is to drive up profits for his shareholders and he has done a tremendous job of this.

      Remember the good old days before huge amorphous publishers, when games were made by DEVELOPERS and their job was to make a good game that players would enjoy? Yeah, those were good days.

        I agree. It's generally why I stick to Nintendo, indies and first party Sony titles nowadays. Generally more wholesome experiences that respect your time and initial (hopefully only) financial investment.

        I can't remember the last time a bought a game published by EA - Mass Effect 3 perhaps.

        At the end of the day, the powers that be at the major publishers are businesspeople. They are there to turn a profit and I don't hold any ill will at them for that. It just so happens that in order to engage in big business, you generally need to pump out crap (with some exceptions of course).

        Take McDonald's for example - huge business with questionable product quality but it satisfies a large enough sample of people to remain very profitable, regardless of the harm it does to those that dine there. This logic applies to EA's portfolio. Mediocre games packed with horrible monetisation strategies that sell very well to the complicit masses. People are happy to eat junk burgers - people are happy to be exploited for a game they have already paid for. Odd to compare burgers and games, sure, but the similarity of methodology and conclusions stands.

        Makes for shitty games but bloody good business.

        Actually it's even sadder than that. track down one of the old print adverts for EA and it was a photo of the staff with them saying they wanted to create a place of creativity for electronic artists

      Agreed. Despite having the most downvoted post on reddit and being called worst company of the year, people ultimately voted with their wallets which turned into him getting the job done well.

      People hating on microtransactions and their business practices aren't going to change a thing. There's no good or bad, that's just the way things are.

      That said, I am so goddamn thankful for the design and direction of Monster Hunter World. It's the kind of game that you'd buy a PS4 for.

        Well, this is a little bit more complex than that...

        For example, I asked EB Games management if the sale of Battlefront 2 was impacted by loot box controversy and the answer was "no". Physical sales were not effected (as far as they noted) because mommies and daddies bought Star Wars games for kids for Christmas because they all loved The Last Jedi and wanted to play some Star Wars. That really is a critical mass you cannot counter and EA knows that.

        Sure, they sold 1 million copies less, and that million was probably digital sales loss due to informed internet audience, but an average customer is uninformed and EA counts on that, especially where Star Wars is concerned.

        This may be different for other titles like Mass Effect, Dragon Age or Anthem because they generally require more informed audience... but Star Wars is the lowest common denominator.

        When a kid comes to mom/dad and asks for a permission to buy Jake Skywalker in Star Wars, mom/dad does not think about the process, does not check or research the concept, she/he just let's kid spend $10 (or more) on a game she/he already paid for, to keep the kid happy. This mentality is no different to mom/dad buying her/his teen years old son GTA5 because his friends are playing it, then lashing out at politicians because her/his kid is playing a violent game so it is the Government's fault and not her/his fault for being not informed.

        In theory if you want to hurt EA you could avoid buying Anthem, new franchise that is now a sole focus of BioWare development team. Though the problem here is that if it fails it will sink BioWare and not EA... and EA execs will find a way to present it to their shareholders as part of the process rather than an effect of their past decisions.

        So, a fight against EA (if you are seeing yourself as a fighter) is not a quick win but a prolonged war of attrition... and gamers have very short attention span, once again, something that predatory publishers count on as they prepare another "best thing ever" to flash before your eyes.

    Will these fuckers just go out of business already? Seriously, they keep making more and more money while their games get worse and worse and their business practices get more and more contemptible and predatory. If you needed further proof that there is no such thing as karma, this is it.

    To be fair, as much as I hate the loot boxes, I think they were the price of making the DLC free instead of having a season pass.

    Personally, I'm not a fan of the season pass either because of the way it splits the player base. But I still prefer it to the loot box model - if I choose to not buy it then I'll settle for playing against other people who feel the same. And occasionally I might end up buying it later in a sale. I eventually bought the BF1 pass on sale for $20, which I thought was fair enough, while I'd never have contemplated buying it for $75. I've barely played those extra maps, which I feel justifies my decision to wait.

      Yeah but they told their investors that turning off the microtransactions in battlefront 2 wouldn't affect their predicted earnings. Which would suggest that they don't actually need to implement either to make the game profitable.

    It’s much easier to defend a game - however much negative press it’s getting - when it still sells 9 million copies (don’t know how accurate, read on another site)...? Sure, they expected more, but 9 million x $$$ is still a pretty tidy chunk of change for the 3 month period (obviously not all profit etc).

    I remember when Tomb Raider & Hitman were considered failures by devs for selling far fewer copies; so whilst we may think a game stinks, if people are still buying it then it won’t look all that shabby to anyone judged against a balance sheet?

    I know some people didn’t care about the loot boxes/MTs & bought BF2 anyway - more power to them, everyone has their right to an opinion; where i get more baffled is by people - and two of my closest friends fall into this category - who complain effusively about the MT’s & then still buy the thing? Pretty sure companies listen to profits more than thread comments/forums etc.

      This is because the space is unregulated and they use the same hooks as the gambling industry uses to elicit addictive spending behaviours.

      This is not a mystery to me, this is why there is such a disparity between their profits and NPS.

    He mentions Battlefield maybe being the biggest shooter of the year. Then why make Battlefront, the biggest IP you own a crappy dumbed down version of a shooter no one wants?

    All they needed was to do a Battlefield reskinning.

    In related news, the news of Battlefront's returning loot boxes has seen EA's stock price surge to an all-time high. Good job everybody. Golden handshakes all-round for hard-working execs.
    We did it, gamers!
    We did it.

      As gamers only voted with their keyboards in forums and not with their wallets, it was to be expected.

    Eh, it's only a matter of time until EA runs out of IP to run into the ground. A moment of silence for the studios that were consumed by EA, and subsequently excreted after their first game failed to meet impossible expectations. *bows head*

      Consumed? You meant sold to.
      Ea doesn't kick down a studios door and say we own you know. These studios sold or merged with EA or other voluntary action.

        Technically both, but I meant what I said. "Voluntary action" in business is extremely relative - a studio going through a bad patch might not be in a position to refuse an offer from a publisher like EA.

        Not necessarily true. BioWare's acquisition was through a parent company and BioWare had no real say in the matter. Can't remember who the other developer in that transaction was.

        I dare say there are other cases where the developers didn't have a huge choice in the matter.

      And gamers, not publishers... will be the ones that lose.

      Execs will walk away with golden handshakes and retire, developers will go broke and gamers will lose their favourite franchises.

      Do you think Andrew Wilson loses sleep over any of it?

        Exactly. These are ruthless business people.
        The developers and creators lose out here.

        Yep. I'm just about done caring about anything EA has to say, beyond its potential to influence other publishers for the worse - they've already thrown the franchises I cared about under the bus, and they're demonstrating themselves to be increasingly tone-deaf when it comes to communicating with gamers.

        Bioware's the only studio left under EA that I care about, but even they haven't made a properly great game since ME3. I want to hope that Anthem will be good, but it'll still likely have those Wilson loot boxes. I want to hope that Anthem's delay was in direct response to Destiny 2's current flailing and The Division's relative success, and the ways each of them do microtransactions and content drops - I want to hope the delay is them toning down the loot boxes, that they're not just waiting for Bungie's Eververse shitstorm to fall off the radar.

    Well if the rumors are true, microsoft might be purchasing them soon so we will see how that goes.

    I remember years ago when EA Sports motto was "It's in the game" and EA's was "Challenge Everything"? Kind of fits now too.... Not in a good way

    The masses are not discerning. They will lap up whatever shiny crap is offered to them.
    This is why we have endless Star Wars films, marvel films, COD games, anything that EA put out.
    It’s not going to change.

    I mean did anyone really expect a different statement from EA?

    EA would never come out as say that they screwed up and microtransactions are bad.

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